A California prison guard is being credited with saving the life of his K-9 “partner” after the dog swallowed heroin during a search of an inmate’s cell.
Officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation say Correctional Officer Ernest Trujillo and his dog “Tucker” were searching cells at Calipatria State Prison for contraband when Tucker displayed what was described as a “sudden change in behavior” in front of a cell. Trained as a “passive alert” dog, when he detects drugs, Tucker sits to alert his handler.
In a statement released last week describing the Aug. 20 incident, CDCR officials said Trujillo went into the cell and searched himself before sending in Tucker — a two-year old black Labrador Retriever — to find what he had alerted to. Tucker crawled under the bunk in the cell and pulled out a towel, with a small lip balm cap containing what Trujillo believed to be black tar heroin — a potent form of the drug that is both cheap and relatively easy to produce.
When Trujillo pulled Tucker out from under the bunk, the dog’s mannerisms had changed, leading Trujillo to believe his dog may have swallowed the heroin he had sniffed out. According to the CDCR, Trujillo immediately began “inducing Tucker to vomit” before rushing the the dog to a veterinary clinic.
While on the way to the veterinarian, Trujillo was notified the substance in the lip balm cap that Tucker had sniffed out had tested positive for heroin. And with that, Trujillo knew getting his dog help immediately was critical.
“I can’t freeze up,” Trujillo was quoted as saying in the department’s release. “This is my partner, it’s instinct, I can’t let anything bad happen to him.”
When Trujillo got Tucker to the veterinarian, the vet injected Tucker with Naloxone HCL, an antidote for opioid poisoning. The dog recovered and was released from the vet’s office that day.
Tucker “joined” CDCR in February of this year, while Trujillo has been with the department for about 14 years. Tucker is his first active K-9 partner. Trujillo says working with his dog gives him “an adrenaline rush” when searching for contraband.
Located in remote Imperial County, Calipatria State Prison holds about 3,800 inmates, with more than half of them serving life sentences. The facility has seen a number of violent outbreaks since it opened in 1992, including an incident earlier this year when about a dozen inmates were injured during a riot involving nearly 300 inmates.